In the first installment of Benónýsson’s Invasion of the Ortaks fantasy series, a tale of political intrigue and unlikely camaraderie takes shape on the continent of Esthopia.

When Carl the Ranger is almost murdered by two foreign soldiers in the wilderness, it becomes clear that something sinister inhabits the otherwise peaceful Esthopian nation of Eniktronia. Saved in the nick of time by the battle-ready Princess Egny—the niece of Eniktronia’s King Haakon—Carl travels with her through the countryside, attacking the encampments of these dark-clad invaders. While lodged at an inn for the night, enemies posing as local tavern-goers make an attempt on her life. News of the attack reaches the king, who sends Sir Klaus eastward across the outlaw-riddled Bending Pass and into the country of Antonia to learn more about the assassination plot. As the knight makes his way, he and his team uncover a conspiracy that implicates even Eniktronia’s closest allies. What’s more, they confirm fears that inhabitants of Orknia, a southern land, separated from Esthopia by sea, have seized the port of Rutan and declared war on the continent. In the middle of this tumult, the team also helps Egny face the onus of royal responsibility when her grandfather, the king of Otanga, dies and leaves her a special inheritance. The novel, filled with well-wrought adventure, hosts a large cast, from the warm Asgrim to the foolhardy Gils, their back stories as attention-grabbing as the main narrative. We learn, for instance, the unsettling history of Christopher, a trader who freed two condemned slaves and joined forces with Klaus against the incoming Ortaks. Given its whirlwindlike pace, the plot’s speed sometimes comes at the expense of clarity but never so much as to obscure the essentials. Benónýsson convincingly sketches the lives of handfuls of Esthopians who, faced with the prospect of war with a brutal tribe and betrayal among their ranks, band together—building interest for the series’ next installment.

A well-rounded cliffhanger of an opening to a series likely to engage fans of medieval-themed fantasy.

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